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Emergency Measures in England’s Prisons: Defendants Stay in Police Custody Amid Overcrowding Crisis



Emergency action initiated to address prison overcrowding in England

Individuals held in police detention might stay longer as bail proceedings are postponed, potentially leading to their placement in already full prisons during the pre-trial period due to a shortage of available cells.

Political correspondent @alixculbertson

Wednesday, May 15, 2024, 4:

The Ministry of Justice has activated an urgent plan to address the issue of overcrowded prisons in England.

Under Operation Early Dawn, individuals arrested will be kept in police custody instead of being moved to magistrates' courts for bail hearings, due to concerns that there may not be adequate jail cell availability should they be ordered to remain in custody.

According to Sky News, the policy is currently being implemented only in London and the North East.

The Law Society, the body representing solicitors across England and Wales, has indicated that numerous cases in magistrates' courts are expected to face delays, with priority being given to the most critical cases.

The Law Society stated that defendants not given priority will be released on police bail.

Further Reading: Program for Early Inmate Release Leads to High-Risk Convicts Being Freed

During the session of Prime Minister's Questions, Sir Keir criticized the state of the prison system, describing it as chaotic. He questioned the prime minister on whether his policy of releasing prisoners 70 days early truly enhances the country's security.

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A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice stated: "The government firmly believes that the most severe offenders should remain incarcerated for extended periods. That's why upcoming legislation will mandate that rapists serve their full sentences without early release and that the most egregious murderers receive life sentences without the possibility of parole."

"Ongoing challenges in our prison system, exacerbated by the pandemic and the recent barristers' strike, have led us to reactivate a former strategy for the safe transport of inmates between courts and detention facilities. This measure guarantees the availability of detention cells for individuals if they are taken into custody."

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The Law Society has stated unequivocally that the current crisis in prison capacity is directly related to the government's justice policies, which include more than ten years of insufficient funding for the criminal justice system.

A representative stated: "Today, victims, witnesses, defendants, and attorneys will arrive at magistrates' courts throughout England, only to discover that their hearings have been postponed because of a capacity crisis in prisons and police cells that is beyond their control.

"Currently, it is clear that this sequence of events will continue daily while the emergency protocol remains active."

Early release for high-risk offenders

In February, an ongoing program named the End of Custody Supervised Licence (ECSL), designed to facilitate the early release of inmates due to overcrowding, was extended indefinitely. This program does not apply to individuals convicted of severe crimes.

During Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions, a dispute erupted regarding the program after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer charged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with permitting the premature release of sex offenders.

Sir Keir referenced a recent report from HM Chief Inspector of Prisons issued on Tuesday concerning Lewes prison in East Sussex. The report highlighted an instance where a prisoner, considered high-risk and with a background of">king, domestic abuse, and under a restraining order, had his release date advanced due to the ECSL scheme.

"The report indicated that he posed a danger to children and was banned from entering an area that encompassed the local authority tasked with finding him accommodation."

The prime minister stated, "As previously mentioned, individuals who pose a risk to the nation should not be enrolled in this program."

"Let me make this absolutely clear… it does not pertain to individuals serving a life sentence.

"Individuals found guilty of major violent crimes, terrorism, or sexual offenses are addressed in this framework. Significantly differing from the protocols established by the previous Labour administration, prison governors and the correctional system now hold full authority to ensure that only suitable candidates are considered for this program."

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